Mystery novels where you_ can_ figure it out, but probably won't?
May 12, 2019 4:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm not really a reader of mystery novels, but I've been curious to try and find a mystery move (or two?) that balance this masterfully. Ideally it'd work through the plot intelligently, and in such a way where the pieces are there, but perhaps have to be put together in an interesting way (vs some sort of twist or whatnot there would be no way to see coming).

There hard part of course is balancing making it possible and making it obvious. I'm open to any and all suggestions though, even if they stray a little bit, just explain to me why!

Bonus points for non male, non white authors.
posted by wooh to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, most mystery novels are like this--I think of what you're describing as defining mysteries as opposed to thrillers. Maybe you want books where the focus is more on puzzles than character development? Among the classics in the puzzle genre is Ellen Raskin's masterful The Westing Game. (yes, it's "YA" although YA did not exist as a genre when it was written)
posted by hydropsyche at 5:47 AM on May 12, 2019 [8 favorites]

I don’t have any recommendations in particular off the top of my head, but what you’re likely looking for are the subset of mysteries referred to as fairplay whodunnits.
posted by juv3nal at 5:52 AM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Fair play whodunnits! That sounds accurate. So...I guess I'm looking for the best of those!
posted by wooh at 5:57 AM on May 12, 2019

From what I remember, Agatha Christie’s books fit the bill. I never could figure out the solution, but there’s no denying the pieces were there the whole time.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:01 AM on May 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

From what I remember, Agatha Christie’s books fit the bill.

Yep, I was going to suggest Murder on the Orient Express. I'll admit to being more familiar with the movies than the book but the plot has a pretty satisfying solution. I'd encourage you to go into without reading too much about it - this is one case where the mystery is the point, so spoilers could easily ruin enjoyment of the book for most people.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Christie varies a great deal in her adherence to fairplay principles. Roger Ackroyd leans towards the unfair end of things while Curtain makes an explicit point in its denouement of demonstrating how fair it’s been.
posted by juv3nal at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

Read some Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. I think you'd enjoy them.
posted by james33 at 7:00 AM on May 12, 2019

I can never figure mysteries out, but I’ve got to suggest Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night for the non-male author part, as it was published in the 1930s and has been described as the first feminist mystery novel. It takes place at a women’s college with a female faculty, so it’s full of accomplished women.

Also, for the fair play style in particular, look at Ellery Queen novels. I only know about them because of the 70s TV show based on them, where near the end, the detective would look into the camera and literally tell the audience we had everything we needed to solve the mystery, then proceed to commercial before giving us the solution (I never figured it out). Looking at the Wikipedia page, the novels are in that style. You can see the show on Amazon Prime, but it’s not free.
posted by FencingGal at 8:21 AM on May 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think "Artists in Crime" would fit this, by Ngaio Marsh, written during the classic period of the late '30s.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:46 AM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

The author of The Westing Game also wrote the wonderful The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), which is aimed at slightly younger readers but a great read at any age. If I remember correctly, one chapter has a footnote pointing out that the answer to the mystery can technically be found within, and I think she points out some other parts (but not all of them) where a would-be solver might pay attention.
posted by trig at 9:17 AM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

For classic fair-play mysteries with a modern twist, I really Jane Haddam's Patience McKenna mysteries, starting with Wicked, Loving Murder. Haddam originally wrote as Orania Papazoglou, so you may find the books under that name. These are very quick reads which I think is a plus if you are looking for that kind of puzzle box effect.
posted by BibiRose at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2019

What The Dead Know by Laura Lippmann is my Gold Standard for this; it is definitely character driven but there’s a mystery at the heart that comes to a very satisfying conclusion that is obvious in retrospect. I am long time fan of mysteries and am familiar with a lot of the conventions and enjoyed it; my husband who is not really into mysteries also found it satisfying in the same way.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:41 AM on May 12, 2019

Well, I think "The Fix" by David Baldacci qualifies (though not for bonus points). Why did the government contractor kill a woman in front of the FBI building and then kill himself? This is Book #3 of the Memory Man series, which is relevant to the OP's criteria because the character "Decker" has perfect recall and periodically through the novel he "reviews" what has been learned so far.
posted by forthright at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2019

In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake (actually Cecil Day-Lewis)

Double Indemnity/anything else by James M. Cain

A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine
posted by Gin and Broadband at 5:56 AM on May 13, 2019

I just finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and I sure didn't guess at the big reveal, for whatever that's worth. I'm pretty sure that the clues were there in abundance, and I'm intending to re-read it sometime to appreciate how it all fit together. I'm supposing it might not qualify as "genre" mystery, but I thought it was great for both character and plot.
posted by polecat at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2019

« Older Baby Sleep Question 3,000,000: Swaddle Weaning...   |   Recommend a RL racing event in the UK for a video... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.